Calling international rescue: the forgotten furniture of Changdigarh

chairTo London on Friday to attend the private view of a rather unusual exhibition revolving around the furniture of arch-modernists Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret created for the Indian city of Chandigarh. Situated in P3, an enormous subterranean gallery beneath the University of Westminster, the exhibition tells the story of the timely rescue of furniture from the city’s public buildings created by the two cousins in the 1960s. Chandigarh, the administrative capital of both the Punjab and Haryana, was India’s first planned city and is home to several architectural projects by the two great Swiss architects.

The city is world renowned for its urban planning and building, but the pair also worked on the smaller details of public life, including many fine examples of modernist furniture. Over the years many of the original handmade pieces had fallen into disrepair and were being cast aside by the the city, or else being stolen and finding its way into foreign auction houses . Apparently the curators stumbled across several items being disposed of in the street and requested that they be allowed to save for posterity.

It’s a great exhibition, fittingly housed in the university’s former concrete construction hall. The examples of furniture differ greatly from our expectations of what constitutes modernist design: handmade, vernacular and largely constructed of wood. No two pieces are identical.

The hall also reconstructs a section of the city’s Palace of Justice, including a handsome spiral defendant’s dock. Much of the furniture on show is a reminder that we often fail to appreciate until we are threatened with its loss. Indeed, the Times of India has reported that now thathe t city’s heritage is being internationally recognised, the government has belatedly realised what’s been going on and issued an urgent directive instructing government departments “not sell or dispose of any heritage furniture to any person or agency.”

The Furniture of Chandigarh – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, June 20 to July 12
P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London Nw1 5LS
+44 (0)20 7911 5876
http://www.p3exhibitions.com.com

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